November Editorial Winner

Transparent pricing good for Oklahomans

TED STREULI, The Journal Record

Last week, St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City took a step in front of the Affordable Care Act by publishing its prices online.
It’s no wonder that Oklahomans are baffled by health care bills. According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, rates for a procedure can vary widely. Drop by for an MRI, for example, and the bill might be as little as $958 at the McBride clinic in Oklahoma City or as much as $4,700 at the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma in Durant. Visit the hospital clinic for something simple and the bill might be only $66 at Integris in Enid, or it might be as high as $409 at Midwest Regional Medical Center in Midwest City.
Fifty years ago, when health insurance was the exception, consumers asked what it was going to cost before agreeing to a procedure. Now, insured consumers generally know only how much their co-pay is. Increasingly, however, consumers with high-deductible plans are shopping for their health care as they would anything else, and price is one of the considerations.
The Affordable Care Act requires providers to publish their charges. That’s clearly good for consumers, who will have an easier time shopping for a flu shot or a sports physical for one of their children. It should be good for clinics and hospitals, too, because patients planning to pay for their own care will have decided in advance whether they can afford the procedure. That could lead to fewer write-offs of unpaid accounts.
Quality care, of course, will remain any provider’s competitive advantage; no one is going to risk substandard surgery to save a few dollars. Hospitals will grumble as states pass their own laws requiring transparency in health care pricing. The whole notion, after all, was considered revolutionary when Omaha, Neb.-based Alegent Creighton Health went transparent with My Cost just six years ago.
In 1958 Congress passed a bill by Democratic U.S. Sen. Mike Moroney of Oklahoma that required car dealers to post the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of new cars in the vehicle’s window. At the time, car dealers thought the law spelled the end of the car business. It didn’t, and neither will transparent health care pricing bring an end to hospitals.
What it will do is something all hospitals should embrace: It will build trust between patients and their providers.

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